The Hill’s Morning Report – US urges calm over coronavirus; Italy on lockdown
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The U.S. and nations across the globe continued a push to contain the coronavirus as the rise in cases across Europe forced one of its foremost countries to shut down all travel and compel individuals to remain in place in an effort to staunch the outbreak.
Italy, the nation most affected by the virus outside of China, issued an unprecedented lockdown in the northern part of the country, where the outbreak has spread widely, restricting movement for roughly 15 million people for nearly a month — a quarter of the nation’s population.
“We are facing an emergency,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in announcing the new restrictions. “A national emergency.”
Conte said that while the new directives are “very rigorous,” they are also necessary as the nation looks to stop the spread of the virus. He added: “This is the moment of self-responsibility.”
According to the latest information, Italy has 366 reported deaths from COVID-19. Worldwide, the death toll is 3,840, and confirmed cases number at least 110,276 in 109 countries.
Across the world, the spread of the virus continued to affect mass gatherings and high-profile events. Pope Francis delivered his Sunday prayers via livestream on Sunday, adding that he felt like he was in a cage. Formula One held its race in Bahrain without spectators. In Saudi Arabia, schools and universities are closed starting today (The Associated Press).
In the U.S., the Trump administration tried to keep fears at bay despite the growing number of confirmed cases. As of this morning, there were 564 cases in the U.S., with 22 deaths resulting from COVID-19.
Administration officials key to the White House’s response to the virus appeared across the Sunday talk shows, saying that the U.S. is shifting into a “mitigation” phase in response to the outbreak. They also maintained that while Americans will see more cases and deaths, they should not panic (The Hill).
“We’ve been saying this all along. Initially, we had a posture of containment so that we could give people time to prepare for where we are right now. Now, we’re shifting into a mitigation phase,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We’re helping communities understand, you’re going to see more cases. Unfortunately, you’re going to see more deaths, but that doesn’t mean that we should panic” (The Hill).
Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, echoed Adams’s remarks, adding that he doubts the U.S. will have to impose “draconian” shut downs as the country enters the new phase.
However, alarm bells rang from Congress on Sunday night as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) announced that he is remaining back in Houston for the next week after coming into contact with the individual who tested positive for the virus at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Feb. 28.
The Texas senator said in a statement that he does not have any symptoms and feels “fine and healthy” but will stay home “out of an abundance of caution” (The Hill). Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Texas) also announced that he came in contact with the individual and will be under self-quarantine for the next week, along with three members of his senior staff (The Hill).
NBC News: Anxiety in an aging Congress as coronavirus marches across U.S.
The Washington Post: Coronavirus case at CPAC brings outbreak closer to Trump, threatening to upend his routine amid reelection bid.
Reid Wilson, The Hill: Coronavirus response guided by earlier outbreaks.
Reuters: Coronavirus may force Americans to avoid crowds and cancel cruises, health official warns.
On Sunday night, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) pushed back on the president’s call to cut taxes in an effort to mitigate the impact of the virus. In a statement, the Democratic leaders said that any stimulus package has to include paid sick leave and unemployment insurance, among other provisions.
“We are demanding that the administration prioritize the health and safety of American workers and their families over corporate interests,” Schumer and Pelosi said.
The Democratic pair called for any package to include paid sick leave, enhanced unemployment insurance, expanded food programs (including food stamps), widespread and free coronavirus testing, and anti-gouging provisions. The administration is looking into a number of economic responses to the spread of COVID-19, including tax cuts aimed at airlines, travel and tourism (The Hill).
The New York Times: State Department tells Americans to avoid cruise ships, despite Trump’s misgivings.
The Hill: U.S. walks tightrope as coronavirus hits adversaries.
Peter Baker: For Trump, coronavirus proves to be an enemy he can’t tweet away.
The Associated Press: Behind the scenes, scientists prep for COVID-19 vaccine test.
In Washington, D.C., it was announced Sunday that the Rev. Timothy Cole, the rector at Christ Church in Georgetown, has the first confirmed case of COVID-19, leading the church to cancel all Sunday services. In total, seven individuals in the DMV area have tested positive for the virus (The Washington Post).
The Sunday Shows: Coronavirus response, Tuesday elections dominate.
The Hill: New coronavirus phase puts spotlight on Deborah Birx.
LEADING THE DAY
POLITICS: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is looking to reverse his fortunes and slow the momentum of former Vice President Joe Biden ahead of Tuesday’s slate of six states, headlined by the Michigan primary, where Sanders is hoping for a repeat of his 2016 victory to regain his footing toward the Democratic nomination.
As Jonathan Easley writes, Sanders’s campaign is cutting its losses in Mississippi, canceling a planned trip there to spend more time in Michigan, which will dole out 125 delegates — one-third of the overall total up for grabs in the six states that will vote on Tuesday night.
While Sanders pulled off a major upset over Hillary Clinton in Michigan four years ago, he faces a steeper climb there this time around as Biden is riding high and has the wind at his back. With the likes of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) out of the race, the centrist lane has cleared for the former vice president, with older voters and suburbanites turning out in huge numbers to vote for him. Biden received another boost on Sunday in the form of an endorsement from yet another 2020 rival: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).
With his back against the wall, Sanders is throwing the kitchen sink at Biden, hitting him as a shill for corporate financial interests and for his vote on the Iraq War and incorporating new attacks on “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Sanders is pointing to Trump’s attacks against Biden on trade to warn that he has baggage in the Midwest that could cost Democrats the 2020 election.
The Washington Post: For Bernie Sanders, Michigan is now the make-or-break state.
The Associated Press: Biden in Mississippi, Sanders in Michigan before primaries.
ABC News: Kamala Harris endorses Joe Biden, the ninth former rival to back his presidential bid.
Another topic Sanders has tried to score points on is Social Security, saying that the former vice president will cut the program in a bid to win support from older voters who have by and large supported Biden in the first 18 states.
As Max Greenwood reports, a day after Biden racked up a slew of primary wins on Super Tuesday, Sanders rolled out a new negative ad accusing Biden of supporting cuts to Social Security and tried to contrast his record on entitlement programs with Biden’s.
The renewed effort comes ahead of one key primary in particular: Florida, which will award 219 delegates on March 17.
The Hill: Sanders criticizes Biden’s voting record: “People want somebody” who can make “tough decisions in tough times.”
The Associated Press: Despite virus risk, 2020 hopefuls keep up campaigns for now.
Politico: Are Trump’s MAGA rallies a hotbed of “hidden voters”?
With Biden on the rise and suddenly on the fast track to nab the nomination, the president and his allies are laying the groundwork for a bruising and personal general election campaign.
According to Morgan Chalfant and Brett Samuels, some in Trump’s orbit privately see a Biden candidacy as a potentially formidable challenge to the president’s reelection chances, noting his strength with African American voters and public persona as a moderate with roots in Pennsylvania.
Publicly though, the president and his supporters on the campaign trail and Capitol Hill have already started deploying attacks on Biden’s son Hunter Biden and painting the 78-year old former vice president as a bumbling candidate who lacks the mental fitness to run the country. The president himself has expressed surprise that Biden has vaulted himself into the front-runner position with a stellar showing on Super Tuesday.
“He looks like he’s going to be a candidate, and I just say, ‘How did that happen?’” Trump said Thursday during a Fox News town hall event in Pennsylvania.
The New York Times: Democrats eye a vice-presidential consolation prize for women.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CONGRESS/ADMINISTRATION: Lawmakers are scrambling to wrap up their work ahead of a one-week recess while also juggling growing concerns about the spread of the coronavirus within the U.S. As Jordain Carney and Juliegrace Brufke write, Congress has a slew of bills set to clear before lawmakers prepare to leave Washington as early as Thursday, with none being more pressing than on surveillance.
Lawmakers are moving toward a deadline for three expiring provisions of the USA Freedom Act with no plan in sight for how to extend them before the March 15 deadline. Though Congress technically has until Sunday to reauthorize, change or formally end the intelligence programs, the House is expected to hold last votes for the week on Thursday. That gives lawmakers only four days to strike a deal on either a short-term extension or a larger reauthorization.
Neither the House or Senate have been able to advance legislation at the committee level or on the floor that deal with the expiring provisions, which are related to roving wiretaps, lone wolf surveillance and a controversial phone records program. Part of the problem for leadership is a push, from members on both sides of the aisle, to use the USA Freedom bill to make broader changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court.
The House will also take up the Senate-passed resolution that would rebuke the president and seek to limit his authority to take military action against Iran. The resolution requires Trump to pull any U.S. troops from military hostilities against Iran within 30 day unless he gets congressional approval for the military actions.
Across the Capitol, the Senate will look to wrap up a wide-ranging energy bill by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) by either Tuesday or Wednesday. The legislation incorporates more than 50 bills including promoting research in up and coming renewable energies and looks to bolster the capture of carbon pollution, including from the coal and natural gas sector, as well as research to expand nuclear energy.
The Hill: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) looms as wild card in surveillance fight.
> St. Patrick’s Day: The White House announced on Sunday that the president will not attend the annual luncheon with a bipartisan and bicameral group of lawmakers to celebrate the U.S.-Ireland relationship on St. Patrick’s Day, and that it’s all because of Pelosi.
“Since the speaker has chosen to tear this nation apart with her actions and her rhetoric, the president will not participate in moments where she so often chooses to drive discord and disunity,” Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, told The Associated Press.
Trump will instead celebrate the ties between the two nations when Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar visits the White House on Thursday. The president attended the luncheon each of the last three years, with Pelosi hosting last year’s edition after retaking the speakership.
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Coronavirus has made us the sanitizer moms, by Jennifer Fiore, opinion contributor, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/2IrU1kl
‘Network Effects’ Multiply a Viral Threat, by Niall Ferguson, opinion contributor, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/2TBxRCC
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at noon.
The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. and will resume consideration of the American Energy Innovation Act.
The president departs Mar-a-Lago to take part in a roundtable discussion with supporters in Longwood, Fla. at 11:45 a.m., and will deliver remarks at a fundraising committee luncheon at 12:15 p.m. Trump will arrive back in Washington at 3:45 p.m.
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➔ International: North Korea fired three short-range missiles off its eastern coast today, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. South Korea reported that the projectiles fired from Sandok, a coastal town, including from a multiple-launch rocket system, flew up to 124 miles and reached 50 km in altitude. The launch took place a week after North Korea launched two short-range missiles following three months of inaction. Today’s decision also took place two days after the North Koreans threatened to take “momentous” action after criticism from five European nations over last week’s launch (Reuters).
➔ Royal Family: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, will take part in their final commitment as working members of the royals when they appear at the annual Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London today. The appearance will be the final time they will work alongside the entire royal family two months after they announced their decision to step back as senior members of the Windsors (The Associated Press).
➔ International Women’s Day: NBC featured the first all-female broadcast crew to cover an NHL game on Sunday night when the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks dropped the puck. Kate Scott served as the play-by-play announcer, while Olympic gold medalist Kendall Coyne Schofield and AJ Mleczko provided color commentary in the 2-0 win for the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues. Kathryn Tappen and Canadian Olympic gold medalist Jen Botterill also took part as the in-studio anchors (The Hill).
And finally … meet Max, the Michigan mutt who was found after he was accidentally stranded on an ice floe in a freezing lake by a crew on a tugboat after he was missing for 36 hours. Max’s owner indicated that he had gone missing between 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on March 1, with the crew spotting him at 8:30 p.m. on March 2.
The crew, which had been on board working since 6 a.m., spotted him and pulled him on board about 20 minutes later by slipping a rope over his neck and pulling him to safety — using a little lunch meat to lure him over.
“It was a very nice dog,” said Matt Babbitt, a captain on board the tugboat. “It was very happy. It was glad to be on board with us” (MLive).
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